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The Dirtiest Surface on an Airplane Isn't What You'd Expect


What's the dirtiest place on an airplane? It's not the lavatory. A travel website did the dirty work of swabbing various airplane cabin surfaces. Here's what they found.

Tray Table

What’s the dirtiest place on an airplane? No, it’s not the bathroom. Your tray table is nearly 10 times filthier than bathroom items, according to according to Travelmath, a site that calculates trip costs, distances, and arrival times. Worse still, the tray table is much closer to your mouth — and your food

than the toilet seat. Eww.

The lavatory flush button harbors 265 colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch of bacteria while your tray table has 2,155 CFU per square inch, according to microbiologists who collected and analyzed 26 samples obtained from five airports and four flights. And don’t touch the drinking fountain button, a germ-gathering haven with a high 1,240 CFU per square inch.

Oddly, the fact that tray tables and drinking fountains are grubbier than bathrooms makes some sense in an industry keen on cutting costs. Cleaning crews sanitize the plane’s lavatories, we presume, or hope, on at least a daily schedule.

But who knows when budget-conscious air carriers send in staff to wash the tray tables and swab the buttons we press for water, air, and lights? Wiping down those items after every flight would likely delay boarding and takeoff times. Even so, after reading these statistics about what else flies in the cabin with us, we might want to complain to our airline companies.

Here’s the dirt:

• Tray table: 2,155 CFU/square inch

• Drinking fountain buttons: 1,240 CFU/square inch

• Overhead air vent: 285 CFU/square inch

• Lavatory flush button: 265 CFU/square inch

• Seatbelt buckle: 230 CFU/square inch

• Bathroom stall locks: 70 CFU/square inch

So never leave home without putting a pack or two of antibacterial hand wipes in you carry-on.

For added perspective, Travelmath compared the plane’s dirty spaces to common surfaces and home items. Pet lovers beware. Pet bowls have 306,000 CFU/square inch and pet toys such as a tennis ball have 19,000 CFU/square inch. Hmm. I can put the dog dishes in the dishwasher but what about her beloved, drooled upon and chewed up tennis balls?

Home countertops came in with 361 CFU/square inch; home toilet seats, 172 CFU/square inch; cell phones, 27 CFU/square inch; and money, 5 CFU/square inch. So much for the concept of “filthy lucre.”

Check out this Travelmath infographic below for all of the findings. Do you use antibacterial wipes on a plane? Will you start? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter, @familyitrips.

Click here for a larger version of this infographic.

Airline hygiene

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